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An Insight into: Curled Leaf

Curled Leaf is a café on Mill Lane that has a cool, quirky, health-conscious vibe. It’s run by Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and her husband Luli Mripa and is very much a joint effort. Alketa has lived in the area for 20 years, arriving in 1997 to study art at St. Martins. When the Kosovan war broke out in 1998 she applied for asylum and ended up putting down roots in London.

As well as running the café , doing yoga classes plus being a wife and mother, Alketa is also a practising artist. Recent works include creating ‘Traces project’, recognising the 20,000 women who were raped in the Kosovan war and very recently ‘Refugees Welcome’, which deals with the current refugee crisis. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s just done a TED talk in Tirana.

Luli runs the café with Alketa and practises acupuncture in an on-site treatment room. He arrived in London when he displaced by the earlier Bosnian war in 1991. He was studying in Italy when the war broke out as was called up for the draft, but was advised by his parents and friends not to return and ended up in London.

Curled Leaf specialises in teas, particularly herbal teas as Luli is a herbalist, and offers a staggering 52 different types. For the first couple of years, the café didn’t serve coffee, preferring the ‘ceremony of tea’ but eventually gave in to  customer demand. It also serves healthy seasonal vegetarian food and delicious, if not quite so healthy, cakes.

The arty (and veggie) Curled Leaf on Mill Lane

What first brought you to West Hampstead?
“Luck really,” said Alketa. “Although I had lived around north-west London since I arrived, living in Kilburn, and on the Finchley Road. I was looking for somewhere to open a café and saw this place on Mill Lane”. Luli ended up in north-west London when he arrived, just down the road in Maida Vale, but it was Alketa who brought him to West Hampstead.

What’s your first memory of the area?
“I remember it as being a really nice area with small cafés and boutiques plus the charity shops. I liked it and hope that it will stay like that”, said Alketa. Luli’s answer is shorter: “La Brocca.  I remember fondly the live music there.”

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
“It seems that the area has changed quite quickly, ” said Luli. “It always had those little places, which you thought would survive for longer, but they are gone.” Alketa is more wistful. “I’m not really happy to see lots of change as it loses that vibe and energy and sense of community, where people know each other and help each other. Being a mum myself, I feel West Hampstead is particularly a place where mums are welcome and I would hate to lose that”.

Feeling hungry?

What’s for lunch?
“Here it’s a variety of things! We do seasonal vegetarian dishes. The house speciality is grilled aubergine, or we are offering quinoa with courgette. Also popular is our special corn and spelt bread with spinach. If we go somewhere else, then eggs benedict at the Wet Fish is a favorite or a vegetarian Pad Thai from Banana Tree.”

West Hampstead in three words?
Beautiful, sense-of-community, mums-welcome (yes , Alketa rather stretches the definition of three words).

An Insight into: Ted Booth

Who is Ted Booth you are asking?  This month’s Insight is a bit different. Instead of interviewing a local business owner, WHL sat down to have a chat with Ted Booth, who is the current writer-in-residence for the Friends of West Hampstead Library. Ted’s a very cool guy but wouldn’t consider himself as such – he’s far too modest for that. He is retired and his last job was lecturer in creative writing in the art faculty at Middlesex University. He said it was ‘terrific fun’ as he was working with art students on writing; they would discuss diaries, poetry, short stories, postcards and occasionally lyrics.

Ted’s been writer-in-residence at the library since June 2016. He was suppose to finish his stint in June this year, but was asked to stay on until September because as Friends’ chair Simon Inglis, put it – we are looking for ‘someone younger’. Ted will end his stint with another evening of poems with Cllr Flick Rea in September. I really enjoyed the last one, so watch out for that. And if you can’ t wait you can also read his blog here.

Ted at his desk

Ted at his desk

Before his library post, Ted was artist-in-residence for the Friends of Fortune Green (2013/14), where he started writing a poem for National Poetry Day, on a different theme each year. Last year, the FoFG gave away more than 500 copies of this poem to passing commuters (and you can also see the poems of other years on the FOFG website). Look out for this year’s poem, which will be published on September 28th. Ted really does bring a touch of poetry to West Hampstead.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

“Simple, my wife Janet’s work brought us here as she started the Mulberry House school. We moved from Leytonstone. People used to say ‘where’s that?’ but now it’s a bit more on the map.”

What is your earliest memory of the area?

“It was seeing this house. The estate agents showed us three houses, a couple on Burrard Road and this one. I soon as I stepped through the door, I thought “wow'”.”

Just a small part of Ted's poetry collection

Just a small part of Ted’s poetry collection

How has West Hampstead changed?

“I’ve noticed the rapid turnover of retailers on West End Lane and here up at Fortune Green.  There’s hardly anything left that was here when we arrived. Although the wonderful West End Lane Books had just opened then and that is still here.” Ted and I discussed a nearby corner shop which has been in turn a wine merchants, wooden flooring shop, motorbike showroom and now a skiwear shop and also the long-standing scuba shop in Child’s Hill. London is certainly full of odd shops we agreed.

What’s for lunch?

Ted surprised me. “I’m very fond  of Café Plus”. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the greasy spoon café on Mill Lane, near Tiffin Tin.  “I also like the Bridge Café opposite the Overground station”.  He says Café Plus offer quick cheap and tasty food, “It’s always very welcoming and run by immigrants making a living.”

Otherwise – and Ted has many facets – he likes the Nigel Slater mid-week dinner which he cooks for himself and Janet.

Describe West Hampstead in three words

Happy, peaceful and enjoyable

 

An Insight into: Brinkworth Dairy

London Farmers’ Market, which runs the West Hampstead market, has an annual competition to find customers favourite stall at each market. In West Hampstead, the winner (again) was Brinkworth Dairy. So who better for WHL’s next Insight.

Brinkworth Dairy is run by Ceri and Chad Cryer (helped by their young three boys and other family members) from Hill End Farm, which has been in the family for five generations since 1910. It’s a small 180-acre farm in North Wiltshire, with 100 grass-fed pedigree British Friesians dairy cows. Future plans include offering camping on the farm (and updating the website to include the award of West Hampstead’s farmers market favourite stall).

Every morning Chad gets up at 4.30 to bring in the cows for milking and at the weekend he then gets ready to set off for farmers markets in West Hampstead (Saturday) and Queen’s Park (Sundays).  He’s helped out here sometimes by a local friend, although this weekend he brought along two of his boys, who were selling jars of Chad’s honey – and sold it all.

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Chad, what brought you West Hampstead?

London Farmers’ Market brought me here. Originally I had a stall with them at Queen’s Park as well as Marylebone, they were finding new venues and about four years ago they asked if I wanted to try their new market at West Hampstead. It was a good market from the start – some other markets start off well but then tail-off – but here things started well and continued to grow.  I like to do the work myself so decided to stick to West Hampstead and Queen’s Park and leave Marylebone.

What is your favourite memory of the area?

It was actually when I needed to go Sainsburys to buy some sugar for the stall and I kept on being greeted by customers. It was strange that here I was walking through London, but it felt like being back in my own village. Nice memory.

What was your first impression of West Hampstead?

I set up at the first market with my friend Seb, who had grown up here and so have mainly seen it through his eyes. He was amazed how much it had changed, and rather regretted his parents had sold their house here.

The first customers were really pleased that the space outside the station was being used. I knew a few of them from Queen’s Park market, they were also pleased they didn’t have go so far for their coffee, cheese and yogurt.

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Blue cheese highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

What has surprised you about the way West Hampstead has changed?

Even in the short space of time I have been coming I have seen the skyline change. When I chat to someone new, often a couple, buying a coffee I’ll discover that they are looking at property in the area.

What’s for lunch?

A pizza from Napoli, the new pizza stall – usually with a samosa from Mumbai Mix (they have the stall next to mine at Queen’s Park). Otherwise it might be a burger from James, or a sausage roll.  But pizza is the new thing.

Conversely, when I’m setting up my stall at 8.45 all the other stallholders are polite enough but what they are really saying is ‘hurry up, please, I want my coffee!”

West Hampstead in three(ish) words?

Nice sense of community.

Farmers’ market update

For those of you that have read this far – changes to the farmers’ market are on the cards. There is talk of extending to Sunday and even running it some weekday evenings.

 

 

 

 

An Insight into: Cocoa Bijoux

Cocoa Bijoux is an, erm, bijou, little chocolate shop down on Broadhurst Gardens. Except it isn’t just a chocolate shop. Stuart Daniel, the owner, wanted it be more interesting than a pure chocolate shop. It’s a good source if you are looking for a special present to take friends who’ve invited you for dinner. Or want to satisfy your own chocolate craving.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Pizza. I was having a pizza at Sarracino, where we had been coming for years, then one day I saw this beautiful little shop, right next door to this great cigar shop (another of West Hampstead’s hidden gems) and said to my wife “I’m going to open up a shop” she replied, “you are crazy”.

I’d been in the confectionary distribution business for over 25 years and the bit I liked best about it was visiting the shops as well as the sourcing and discovering. So I thought the time had come to try something different and open my own shop.

I never wanted to open a pure chocolate shop though, I find them a bit boring. I’m a foodie and like other indulgent products too; biscuits, olive oil, jams, cakes (Ed – and even biltong, Stuart hails from South Africa). I wanted the shop to allow customer to “explore and discover a world of indulgence”.

First or fondest memory of West Hampstead?

Those pizzas at Sarracino!

Aow, wouldn't it be loverly? Lots of choco'lates for me to eat.

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of choco’lates for me to eat.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

I haven’t been here that long, opening the shop in 2011, so it is difficult to know. Even in that short space of time though I’ve notice that the young couples that came in when I first opened have moved away and been replaced more and more by wealthy ex-pats. But West Hampstead is still perceived as a young person’s area, it has a young vibe.

Talking of change, I’d like to move into one of the new units when Mario’s further up Broadhurst Gardens gets redeveloped. It would be good to have more space, with somewhere for the customers to properly sit down and have one of our hot chocolate drinks.

When I look back at pictures of the shop, which at the time I thought was great, I now think it was terrible! The shop has matured, you have to respond to people’s wants and everything evolves.

What’s for lunch?

Mostly a beigel from Roni’s to go with soup I bring with me.

West Hampstead in three words?

Young, well-located and eclectic

An Insight into: Achillea Flowers

Our last Insight focused on one man with two businesses. This time we’re talking to two women who run one business: Kate Rader and Clare Emburey who run Achillea, the florist on Mill Lane.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Clare: We actually met at the tomato stall at Queen’s Park market. Kate, who has known me since I was a child, asked me if I loved my job (as a florist), I did but was ready for a change. “Great”, said Kate, “That’s the answer I was looking for. Let’s open a business and we’ll just have fun; if we feel like it one day we can dress up like geishas!”

The next step was to meet for a coffee on Mill Lane; we looked at a couple of sites, but none was quite right. Walking back, we passed this corner shop which I said looked ‘sick’. Kate had no idea I meant cool.

The builder saw us and asked if we were looking for a shop. He invited us in to take a look and when we said we wanted to open a florist he told us his wife was one! He gave us the number of the landlord, who we called immediately and we agreed on the spot to rent the shop.

Within one week it had gone from concept to actually renting a shop for the business.

Kate: People said Mill Lane is a difficult street and it won’t last. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was all very serendipitous.

Clare: It’s a good idea we didn’t have time to stop and and think, but I’m really glad we did it. Never did the dressing up as a geisha, although we did do halloween costumes one year.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

Kate: The glass shop opposite us, run by Derek. I’ve been using it for 35 years, plus the framers next door.

Clare: I just loved that I could be myself – and of course the first time I met my fiancé at the Kitchen Table. Now we are getting married – a Mill Lane marriage, that’s a first!

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead had changed?

Kate: It used to have really useful things, but that’s gone, although I don’t really use West End Lane much. Here on Mill Lane you can still get useful things: your keys cut, physiotherapy if you need it, or yoga at Curled Leaf.

Clare: I don’t feel it has changed that much – West Hampstead is a great place that is quite settled, rather than a cool place full of egos.

What’s for lunch?

Either the Kitchen Table or Curled Leaf, although we have had some quite enjoyable nights at the Alliance for our Christmas dinners.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Better than Hampstead

An Insight into: Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Co.

John Padalino runs not one but two local businesses – and they are next door to each other. Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Coffee on Broadhurst Gardens. If you don’t know them already, they are a couple of the ‘hipper’ businesses here, but with a mix of typical West Hampstead customers.

What brought you West Hampstead?

The C11 bus from Brent Cross.

It was literally by accident. I had moved up to London from Devon, and was searching for a while for somewhere to set up a men’s salon. I trained at my dad’s salon in Devon, which has just celebrated it’s 55th anniversary. I ran it for a while but the pull of London was too strong.

Back in 2010 I was shopping in Brent Cross, and I randomly got on a bus to explore. The bus was a C11, and I got off at this place that had a nice vibe and looked interesting; West End Green. I wandered down West End Lane and at the bottom saw a salon called Matrix, which was empty in a parade of shops opposite the tube station. I thought that it was a pretty good site next to three stations.

Then I went in to Café Bon next door and checked online for leases available in West Hampstead. The first lease that came up was … Matrix!

I immediately called Network Rail, which was  offering a three-year lease with a six-month break clause. I could see there was the potential for redevelopment but the other local shopkeepers said there had been talk of it for 15 years and nothing had happened. So I took the risk and signed the lease.

What happened next?

Business got off to a good start but just three months later a letter arrived giving me my notice! West Hampstead Square was going to be built and our little parade of shops was going to be knocked down. It was pretty stressful having only just got the business off the ground but one of my clients, a surveyor, said, “Face it, London is evolving, it’s going to change, don’t fight it.”

By the time we moved, 18 months later, I had already found a new place round the corner for rock, in what had been the Millennium café. However, my old place was going to be empty for three months so I negotiated with Network Rail to open a pop-up coffee shop there.

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

What’s your fondest memory of the area?

Getting up at 5.30am and opening the door on that pop-up coffee shop. It opened from December 2011 until February 2012. We decided to focus on the coffee – pure and true – so we decided to work with a great roaster. Tom, my business partner’s dad, made all the furniture but you could still tell it had been a barbers; there were still mirrors on the wall.

Tom and I would start off serving coffee in the morning then pop round to Rock to cut hair! From day one people responded really positively and we got so much encouragement. So when the shop next to Rock became available, my landlady asked if wanted to take it on and the pop-up coffee shop suddenly had a permanent home. I was amazed at how things turned around from just two years earlier.

It is not just Tom and his Dad that helped, but our partners too.  It was a team effort.  Likewise now I couldn’t do it without the baristas at Wired and the other stylists at Rock.  I’m proud of them all.  Also, having a very local website like West Hampstead Life really helped too.

Wired Co. - they really know their coffee.

Wired Co. – they really know their coffee.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

What has surprised me was the nice mix of customers. With the connections to the City and Canary Wharf we have customers who work in the city, but we also have guys who work in TV and sportsmen. From conservative to cutting edge – a nice mix of everyone.

Broadhurst Gardens has changed even since we arrived but the businesses offer something a bit different, from a pizza cooked in a wood burning stove, bespoke chocolates, violins, and great coffee and food in Wired.

The regulars  really encourage us to improve and change; we’ve introduced V60 and aeropress [Ed – new ways of making of coffee]. Currently, we are seeing demand for plant-based foods and are jointly developing those with our food producers.

What’s for lunch?

Normally I have a smoked turkey, avocado and harrissa sandwich and one of our chia pots for dessert. But this month being VEGANuary, I’m going more vegetarian with our carrot, courguette and hommous on rye with a flat white with cashew milk.

If I go out, I like Pham just a couple of doors down, the food is excellent. Or popping in for a drink at the Gallery.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Evolving, supportive and responsive.

An Insight into: The Sherriff Centre

The Sherriff Centre, which opened in 2014, has settled in well and is now one of the most popular features of the area – especially with parents.  It was, and still is, a church, but after some extensive internal modernisation it now offers a host of community facilities: a post office and shop, a café with lots of comfortable seating and Hullabaloo (the kids soft play area, and the reason why it is so popular with parents – and perhaps less popular with people looking for a quiet coffee!).

As I waited to talk to Jane Edwards, the manager, it was particularly busy with long queues for the post office counter, the café was full and kids were enjoying the soft play. Plus lots of Christmas lights. All in all a great atmosphere.

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I first came to West Hampstead in the mid-90s and rented a flat with my then boyfriend (now husband). We loved the flat and area so much that we begged the landlady to stay and offered to decorate the flat and look after the garden to keep the rent affordable! Eventually, we moved to West London but we always said if we could ever afford it we would move back to the area.

And we did move back, about 12 years ago; first to Sumatra Road, and then up to Gondar Gardens, where we are now. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

What is your first memory of the area?

I loved the feel of West End Lane. Especially the area round West End Green and the fire station, which my parents call ‘Trumpton’! Even though you are in London it doesn’t feel like you are in London.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It has fewer independent shops, although that is perhaps inevitable. I loved the record shop and Dizar the gift shop. And instead of Atlanta we now have all the supermarkets and soon an M&S food shop. But nothing has surprised me, everything changes.

One of the things we try to do at the Sherriff Centre is strike the right balance between keeping it community-oriented and being commercial; we are a social enterprise/business. We innovate with things like the quiz and would like to try supper clubs as well as other ideas for events, especially as the building really comes into its own at night.

The shop stock - a good source of presents and cards.

The shop stock – a good source of presents and cards.

People still come in and pray and light a candle outside of ‘church’ hours and others notice when the colour of the cloth on the altar changes and ask why. So we still have the link to it being a church.  Yes it has changed but it is still an inspiring place, quite calming with a history.

What’s for lunch?

Something from the café, most probably their daily dish (lasagne is a particular favorite), unless they have sold out that is.

And I do go out too! As I live locally I go out to local places at the weekend. So for a weekend lunch? I miss La Brocca, we always used to go there for weekend brunch. Currently, I like the Black Lion and also the Alliance for their Sunday roasts but I like to try new places too.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Unique, vibrant and community

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Insight into: The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane

It’s been ten years since the Kitchen Table opened, yes ten years, and since then it’s become a firm favourite for many a local. Almost all the business is from regulars, some that move abroad but still pop by on their visits home. Having done it for ten years, Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie are perhaps thinking about a change (anyone want to buy a thriving, well-established business?), but for the moment it’s business as usual.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

First alcohol, then love. In 1999 I was learning about wines and working in the Grog Blossom (a wine merchant on West End Lane where Nail Suite is now).  Tom, my now husband, came in to sell his bike to the owner of the shop and that’s how I got to know him. He sold a bike and gained a girlfriend. Tom was brought up here and after we married in 2003, we stayed in the area. In 2006,we took over a café in Mill Lane and had a vision of cooking and selling the food I like.

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

It’s Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

What is your first memory of the area?

Years ago I used to live in Hampstead with my parents. My Dad was an inveterate walker and at weekends we would explore the area. Sometimes he would bring us down over this way and I particularly remember coming to Cotleigh and Dynham Roads, which were weird and hilly. It was all a bit run-down, but it intrigued me.

Oh yes and how can I forget – there was a burger place near West End Green called Jenny’s Burgers!

What has surprised you most about the way West Hampstead has changed?

I’m a little sad that West Hampstead feels like it is losing its individual identity and becoming more corporate. It used to be full of independents and was an interesting area with interesting things like a record shop and a jewellery shop. It’s still got some of that – a very good bike shop, the best bookshop in the world, but I’m worried that with the addition of West Hampstead Square and yet another supermarket it is losing its identity.

Mill Lane still has some of this interest. Yes, in the past 18 months a few business have closed down but each for their own good reason. Independent businesses can still afford to be here and there is a still a good selection.

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

What’s for lunch?

I never stop for lunch! For me, if I’m lucky, a cup of tea and piece of cake. In the café it’s our peak time with lots of regulars, many of whom work round here so we have a changing selection for lunch, plus there are the diehard soup fans. Also popular are breakfasts, BLTs and brownies and of course cakes are best sellers – new customers love the fact that the cakes are all home made.

Of other places I’d go, if we are going out in the evening I’ve heard good things about The Petite Corée and on Saturday it was Lily, my daughter’s, birthday so we went to Franco Manca on the Kilburn High Road.

West Hampstead in three words?

Community, ever-changing and… gossipy

An Insight into: La Mer on Broadhurst Gardens

La Mer, the fishmongers on Broadhurst Gardens is open only two half days a week (10am to 2.30pm Friday and Saturday), because 95% of Karim Thobani’s business is wholesaling to restaurants in central London (and some local restaurants too). This involves a 2am start to get supplies from Billingsgate market, although some supplies are delivered, which causes great excitement for the local seagulls.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

My parents. They brought me to West Hampstead as a two-year-old in the 1960s when they moved from Tehran to England, more specifically West Hampstead and a flat on West End Lane. Later, they bought a take-away fish shop called Saffron, which was a bit further up West End Lane (where Paya is now). They sold it when they retired in the ’70s.

By 1988, I’d been to uni, worked in a hotel and by fluke started the business wholesaling fish. At the time I was selling frozen spinach and my customers were asking for fish as well; so I set up the business with my then girlfriend (now wife).

I lived back in the area at the time too but sold that flat and moved – not that far away – to Willesden Green.

la-mer1

 

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

I can remember Broadhurst Gardens as a child – it was not as lively as it is now. There was a chemist here and a Nat West Bank round the corner by the tube station. I can also remember the Railway in its musical heyday.

Growing up I remember enjoying playing in my local park, Kilburn Grange, where I played tennis.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

Over the years it has changed a lot and will change even more with the opening of the new (Ballymore) flats.

One change that has surprised me a lot is how much property prices have risen. My parents bought the flat on West End Lane in 1974 for £8,000. It’s now apparently worth 100 times that. Crazy.

But change is good, people are always moving in and out. My customers often move away from the area because it is becomes too expensive, but they still come back to get their fresh fish from here.

la-mer2

What’s for lunch?

I miss La Brocca and their pizzas! Otherwise, sometimes I pop up to the Alice House (it is one of the local restaurants he supplies, La Petit Corée is another).

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Very busy and changing.

An Insight into: Peppercorns

Health food store Peppercorns used to be located opposite the tube station, but when Ballymore began construction of West Hampstead Square, it had to move. Now it’s up by West End Green. We spoke to the owner Mukesh Patel, who has been there for 20 years.  He runs it with his brother Nilesh, who joined him in 2002.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I had been working in the area since 1982, down on Belsize Road. I had a newsagents and nearby there was a health food store called Abundance, which sold natural foods. I thought it would nice to work in a business like that, that you really care about.

How did I end up at Peppercorns? It  was started in 1982 by the Steeles, a New Zealand couple. She was the first person in the UK to import Manuka honey and by the mid-90s they were expanding the wholesale side of the Manuka business. In 1996 they put their two health food shops up for sale; one in Hampstead and one in West Hampstead. I happened to be reading Dalton’s Weekly and saw this health food business for sale – in West Hampstead! It was local, I was interested so I came to check out the place – with my bank manager.

Mukesh at Peppercorns

Mukesh at Peppercorns

What is your first (fondest) memory of the area?

I can’t remember, it’s that long ago! I remember that Abundance sold muesli by the kilo [Ed – or lbs as was then], which I saw when I went in to buy my veggie lunch.

What’s surprised you about how West Hampstead had changed?

I remember passing down West End Lane and it was a bit run down. There was Atlanta and Jenny’s burgers where Nando’s now is. It was quite down-market, but it has really gentrified.

The arrival of the big chains does make it a bit like every other high street, a bit of a monoculture. The worrying thing is that it really makes it difficult for the independents to pay the rent.

Gail’s probably paid a bit over the market rate but other landlords see that and think they can raise the rents they charge. Independents can’t survive if they can’t afford to pay the rent.

What’s for lunch?

I buy my own ! We have loads of healthy, vegetarian takeaways.

If I don’t eat here I used to go to Dylan’s or sometimes to Bella Luna who do a very good pasta lunch special.

West Hampstead in three words?

Lively, friendly and increasingly health-conscious

An Insight into: Monsters of Art on Mill Lane

Last month we started a series of interviews with local independent shop owners. This month we’re talking to Dan Gold from Monsters of Art, a tattoo studio and art gallery. Dan has been a tattoo artist for 25 years, learning his art across the world, so how has he ended up in Mill Lane?

What brought you to West Hampstead?

We had lived in Muswell Hill, the East End and had shops in Islington and King’s Cross but one day I was riding down West End Lane and instantly fell in love with it and decided to move here. Why the shop on Mill Lane? Well, we ended up living in Narcissus Road where I had a private studio but I got too busy. I know Ian, who owns this shop and he said the charity Best Beginnings was leaving and was I interested. That was four years and seven months ago!

Dan at Monsters of Art

Dan at Monsters of Art (with Simon in the background)

What was your first (fondest) memory of the area?

It was seeing West End Green, the fire station and thinking ‘wow!’. I had commuted up and down the Finchley Road for years and just didn’t know it was here. West End Lane lies nestled between the the bigger Finchley Road and Shoot up Hill. I still have clients who come that have no idea West Hampstead is here.

What has surprised you the most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It’s almost becoming like Hampstead. I’ve seen the houses round Sumatra Road being converted back from bedsits to family houses and I’ve seen this (gentrification) reflected in the people. When we started we sold edition prints but we are selling more and more one off pieces, we see a real difference.

Mill Lane as a whole is undergoing change at the moment. We miss Bake-a-boo. It was the sort of unique business that drew clients to it. Hen parties would come there and then come back to other businesses. Mill Lane needs shops like that, destination shops to help the others that survive on passing trade. Although we are lucky that parking is OK round here. I have clients that are are here for seven or eight hours.

I’m lucky because I have my own loyal client base [Ed – a client had just arrived from Portsmouth, to have Queen Nefertiti tattooed on her leg and this is how it turned out].

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

How do you feel about the changes that are coming to the area?

There is a real resistance to change, but sometimes change is good. Everywhere in London is always changing, personally I feel it will have a positive impact and West Hampstead has a good future.

We sometimes forget we are very lucky we don’t have the problems of the Caledonian Road or Kings Cross or Chapel Market, where I had previous shops. I was sometimes concerned for my safety (I was held up at gun point!) and that of my clients. But that is not a worry here, West Hampstead has the balance just right.

We could do with more local independent shops but it is tricky to find a niche that isn’t covered by the big brands and supermarkets.

What’s for lunch?

Well, we are spoilt for choice! It can be a BLT from the Kitchen Table, a salad from West End Lane. It’s one thing that is great about West Hampstead you are never short of something good to eat.

West Hampstead in three words?

very pleasant indeed

An insight into: Insight Opticians

One of the things that gives West Hampstead its character is the independent shops and local groups. We though we’d plan a series (and let’s see where this goes) asking them a few questions about their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Where better to start for an insight into West Hampstead than with Kiran Vyas. Kiran has just celebrated 30 years on West End Lane running Insight Opticians.

Kiran at Insight

Kiran at Insight Opticians

What brought you to West Hampstead?
Chance brought me to West Hampstead! Back in 1986, Julian Leveson, who had previously run the business passed away suddenly. Julian was from South Africa and his family didn’t know what to do with it. They asked a friend for suggestions, that friend happened to be a friend of mine, so he asked if I was interested in buying it.

At the time I had just qualified and was working at my brother’s practice down in Wimbledon, but was looking to open my own practice. I was living in Edgware (where I had relocated after being expelled from Uganda in 1972, and still live) and so having the option of my own optician’s practice closer to home was good timing.

There has been an opticians on this site since 1948. It was originally opened by Irving Shoot, who owned it until about 1965. He sold it to Daniel Martin, who moved to Canada. Daniel sold it to Stephen Isaacs, who made millions as For Eyes opticians. Julian bought it in about 1980. I then took it over and renamed it Insight Opticians.

What is your fondest memory of the area?
There are a number of shops I remember, but the one I miss most is the old apothecary, where the fruit shop is now. It was a quirky little shop with old wooden fittings run by an interesting old fellow called Arthur who was a herbalist as well as pharmacist. Unfortunately, he got robbed and was tied up; he sold up shortly afterwards.

Insight at 30

Insight Opticians – Happy 30th birthday!

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
In some ways it is that the community feel that was there then is still here today. Since the arrival of the chain stores it is becoming a little more impersonal but change is inevitable – a necessary evil. The older population still retains this community feel. The challenge is to change the business in a way that encourages the new younger clients, but still retains the older clientele.

What was for lunch?
We are spoilt for choice! The neighbouring Banana Tree is always good, Lena’s up West End Lane is good and the fruit and vegetable shop is also good and is an inspiration to become healthy.

West Hampstead in three words?
Awesome, vibrant and friendly